Inverness is one of my best loved cities anywhere. For many years the place where I worked and played, and got stuck in the wrong traffic lane. And on my recent visit, I made straight for my favourite spot. Not what you expected? Wait…all is not what it seems – this building was originally commissioned by the last Stuart monarchy, Queen Anne (1665-1714), as a Gaelic Church for the Highland Regiments when stationed in Inverness, and was used as an emergency hospital during the Battle of Culloden. Rebuilt twice over the next two hundred years, it finally became Greyfriars Free Church in 1954. And now… …it is full of books, thousands of them, well, 100,000 to be precise, although a few more may have found their way in by now: the largest collection of second-hand books in Scotland. At the top of this spiral stairway is a cafe that serves amazing home-made soups you could survive on for a week, and cakes, lots of cakes. Galleries lead off either side with more books, art, and sofas to cuddle you while you read. From the top of the stairs, you get a better appreciation of the sheer mass of this collection. Charles Leakey opened his bookshop in 1979, adding the cafe later. When the building was last refurbished, they found human bones under the floor – if, while browsing in a particularly secluded corner, you should hear faint strains of a Piobaireachd* lament, you will know that history is still present, as always: enjoy it. I asked Charles how he felt the digital revolution would affect him. He was unfazed: “Even if digital books replace print, the market for second-hand books will remain.” And I’m sure he is right. Hang on to all those dusty volumes under the stairs – when the lights go out after Armageddon, you will have something to read in the firelight. And while we are on churches: on the other side of the river from Leakey’s Bookshop is St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, completed in 1869 in glowing Tarradale sandstone. Displayed inside are five exquisite icons presented to Bishop Robert Eden by the Tzar of Russia when the bishop visited there in 1866. The Cathedral moves with the times, however, and has a blogging Bishop – The Right Reverend Mark Strange – http://www.moray.anglican.org/index.php/bish Walking from the Cathedral, beside the river along the tree-lined Ness Walk, you get a good view of Inverness Castle. This commanding mound was the site of a 12th century wooden fort, founded by King David 1 (the first in Scotland, that is, not the one in the Bible). Successive structures were ravaged by Highland history, the last one being blown up after the Battle of Culloden. The present castle was built in the mid 19th century to accommodate the Sheriff Court and local administration. (Highland magistrates are called Sheriffs but they don’t tote guns – as a rule). And near the end of Ness Walk is Eden Court Theatre, which also has an art gallery, restaurant, and cinemas, all completely refurbished in 2007, and now Scotland’s largest combined arts venue. The building on the right is the old Bishop’s Palace, associated with Bishop Eden after whom the theatre was named. Eden Court Theatre’s website is www.eden-court.co.uk I was working in Inverness when the original theatre was officially opened on 15 April 1976 by actor Alexander Cruickshank, aka Dr Cameron in Dr Finlay’s Case Book. There was to be a Gala Concert that night. The queue for tickets stretched right around the car park that extended from the back of the theatre complex to the Highland Regional Council offices, and I was about half way along with an excellent chance of getting a decent seat, but it was moving very slowly and my lunch hour was long over. I decided to stick it out and invent some excuse for missing work that afternoon, little realising that as I shuffled up the line, I was clearly visible from my boss’s office window. There is so much more to see in Inverness, I’ll have to take you there again next week. We’ll walk through town with the camera…there will be kilts. * Piobaireachd, for those who may not know, is an old and special form of composition for the Highland Bagpipe that requires great skill and artistry to perform. If you copy and paste the word into Google, you will find several YouTube links where you can hear it. (The word is pronounced ‘peebroch’ but the Highlanders play a lot of Scrabble and they like to get all their letters out). If you enjoyed this post, please share it.
Inverness: reading novels in church